WTA Finals: Muguruza notches up another win

Garbine Muguruza of Spain unleashing a powerful forehand against Angelique Kerber of Germany. The match was slightly closer than the 6-4, 6-4 scoreline suggested and the second seed is playing really well.
Garbine Muguruza of Spain unleashing a powerful forehand against Angelique Kerber of Germany. The match was slightly closer than the 6-4, 6-4 scoreline suggested and the second seed is playing really well.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Muguruza powers to second win and earns plaudits for her fearless play against Kerber

The only thing gentle about Garbine Muguruza is her smile. Arm her with a racket and an enchanting tennis version of assault and battery follows.

Yesterday, she brought her combative, combustible game to the Singapore Indoor Stadium and left with a 6-4, 6-4 win over the stoic Angelique Kerber. The scoreline lies, for the match was slightly closer than the numbers suggest.

Muguruza now has two wins from two round-robin matches and Kerber has a win and a loss. Said the Spaniard, who lost three times to the German but has now beaten her four straight times this year: "Well, I just keep working and improving. I think my level is really good now. You know, every time I go to the court against Angelique I know I have to play very good to win against her."

The fine name of this tournament is the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. By the time you say it Muguruza has probably tried to end a rally. She plays with boldness and abandon and it seems the lines are chiefly there to be hit rather than to mark the dimensions of the court. Last night she hit 30 winners and yet collected 28 unforced errors.

Said a generous Kerber later: "She had a lot of confidence from the last few weeks, and I think that helps her to be very confident in the important moment and just go for it. I think that's why she is so dangerous right now."

Muguruza walks rather deliberately between points but little else about her is slow. She started fast with a percussive forehand in the first game when Kerber was down break point and was quickly up 1-0. Next game she was down a break point herself but replied with a service winner. End of conversation.

Kerber spent some time this year practising with Steffi Graf and said her idol "got rid of my doubts". Showing substantial belief she broke Muguruza back to make it 2-2 and for a while both women duelled at high speed.

Kerber would have felt the sting of the 46-year-old Graf's famous forehand in practice but Muguruza, 22, inspires some fear with her own artillery. At 4-4, the Spaniard unleashed - there is no other word - a flood of forehands, chased down a drop shot, broke Kerber, saved a break point of her own with a big serve and the first set was done.

Muguruza, tennis' latest fascination, has a game laced with colour - she volleyed with some felicity - and a fetching personality. Not yet wounded by slumps and injury she seems to play with a wonderful lack of fear. For a first-timer at this event, who is also vying for the doubles prize, she has some nerve.

From some angles her long legs suggest she is playing on stilts and already in some categories she towers over this field. According to statistics provided to The Straits Times by SAP, so far she tops the tournament in aces (12), second serve points won (63 per cent), service points won (67 per cent), service games won (86.7 per cent) and break points saved (71.4 per cent).

The second set began with appreciative whistles for a rally that included a drop shot, volleys, speed and spirit.

Kerber staved off break points in the first game but was broken in the fifth after a Spanish backhand winner that sped down the line. Just for the record Muguruza's average backhand speed is 109kmh and Kerber's is 101.

The kinetic Kerber broke back to 4-4 but Muguruza broke again the next game and the damage was done and so was the match. Later the Spaniard was asked if the endless questions about being the next big thing and a potential champion bothered her and she, as she does, answered with a graceful equanimity.

"Well, every time they ask me I'm like, Okay, I don't know. Yes, I want to be. Let's see if it happens. I don't think there is an answer for that.

"I mean, it's good that people see in me like a future top player. Well, it's nice to hear that, but obviously that's what I'm trying to do. That's it."

Of course, she was smiling.

Then, questions done, she left the press conference, spied a jar of cookies and gratefully took one. Certainly she had earned it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2015, with the headline 'BOLD & CONFIDENT APPROACH'. Print Edition | Subscribe